It is a telling choice of word. Hearing it used unironically, as would-be Missouri senator Todd Akin did last week, one almost feels as if Amelia Earhart never flew a plane and Sally Ride never rode a space shuttle. As if Madame C.J. Walker never made millions and Meg Whitman never made CEO. As if Lisa Leslie never dunked, Pat Benatar never rocked, Oprah Winfrey never reigned and Hillary Clinton never ran.
But that is, indeed, what the man said. In an interview last week, he complained that his opponent, Sen. Claire McCaskill, was very aggressive in debating him, unlike her 2006 race, when she was “much more ladylike.”
Akin, last heard revealing the existence of a previously unknown mechanism in the female body that shuts down contraception in the event of “legitimate rape,” might want to pen himself a reminder to not talk about women again, ever.
This latest gaffe is somewhat reminiscent of when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was quoted as saying candidate Barack Obama had the ability to switch off and on his “Negro dialect.” While the observation was true enough, we were still left to grapple that bizarre choice of word. The term “Negro” fell out of usage in the late ’60s. How is it Reid failed, for 40 years, to get the memo?
One wonders the same about Akin. The issue is not dated terminology, per se, but rather, the suspicion that it reflects a dated worldview — particularly with Akin, given his belief in a rape-resistant uterus.
But though he is the latest, he is hardly the only man who has sought recently to police the decorum of female lawmakers. Consider the 2011 email Rep. Allen West sent Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz telling her, “you are not a lady” and “shall not be accorded due respect from me.” And then there’s then-Sen. Arlen Specter’s 2010 shot at Rep. Michele Bachmann during a radio interview: “I’m going to treat you like a lady. So act like one.”